I was 16 years old when I was admitted to my first psychiatric hospital. The year was 2012 and I was roughly two weeks into my new sixth form, studying A-levels in English, History, French and Spanish. In the greater picture, I was early in my education adventure, ready to delve into the intricacies of the subjects I’d chosen; the subjects I was passionate about. However what I was failing to take care of was my mental health, which had been slowly deteriorating for a few months. I was 12 when first diagnosed with depression, and had been on an anti-depressants for a couple of years whilst waiting for treatment. I can’t remember if I was on any meds in 2012. Whether it was the stress of starting a new school, the stress of starting A-levels, or personal difficulties simply intensifying daily that pushed me to the breaking point, I do not know. All I know is that one night in September 2012 I self harmed on my face. Terrified, my mum took me to general hospital where she explained my self harm had been getting more frequent as of late, and on this particular evening I had made a cut to my face. After an assessment in general, I was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric ward, where I would essentially live in for the next six months of my life.
I won’t dwell on detail of life inside the hospital, as this is not what this post is about. But what I will say is it was tough. Incredibly tough. When I finally came home, I was obviously happy and excited, but I was also sad and a little scared. Because, even though my place at sixth form was still there if I wanted it, I’d have had to start in September of 2013, a year behind everyone I knew. I didn’t want to do that. So instead, I decided I would apply to do A-levels at college instead, which would also start in September 2013. Whilst at the time, waiting for September to come felt long and tedious, it did soon come round and I was off, ready to start fresh. I spent the next two years at college studying A-level History, Religious Studies/Philosophy and English Lit/Lang. I met some wonderful people and had a great time. My mental health was still relatively unstable, though, and there were a few incidents during those two years that resulted with me in general hospital for treatments, but not in the psych ward again, which I was thankful for.
So, it’s now summer of 2015 and A-levels have finished and we’re waiting on results, to see if we got into the universities we wanted. I’d applied to uni, and was very excited at the prospect of moving out, moving away, and really beginning my life. Results day came and I was relieved to find out I’d gotten the grades I needed to study Philosophy at my first choice uni. Brilliant. Once again September came round and I’d packed up all my things, and we left to move me in to student halls. I think, in hindsight, where I went wrong was that I had been ignoring my mental health, suppressing the darkness inside me because I was so afraid of going backwards, I just couldn’t afford to let it so much as cross my mind. So I wore this mask; put on a brave face and began to tackle the world.
My university experience lasted 6 months. It took 6 months, multiple relapses, endless breakdowns and missed lectures for me to contact my hometown best friend, telling her things were not okay. She came up to see me, and I showed her a letter I had written. A letter written with brutal honesty about where I was at mentally, and what was going on. She read it, cried, and told me that we would be getting the next train back home because I needed to tell my parents this.
I was nervous to go back home with bad news. Angry that my mental health was yet again getting in the way of me doing what I wanted. My parents were very understanding and arranged an emergency GP appointment. The GP contacted the crisis team, who were to come out the day after. The stress of everything going on evidently got too much for me, as the night before the crisis team were due to visit, I had a psychotic episode and ended up in general hospital, again. However this time I found out that once I’d been medically treated, I wouldn’t be going home. I’d be going to another psychiatric hospital. This happened in late January 2016, and I was admitted to the psych ward early February 2016. If I had to sum up how I felt about this in one word, it would be ‘devastated’. I had just managed to move away, become independent, and in my eyes it seemed like suddenly it was all taken away from me. However when I look back on it, I can see that actually I had been going down a dark slope for a while, slowly getting worse and worse, more unwell. I spent around 2 months in this hospital, and coming home this time was hard. Life after the psych ward this time was hard. Because I wasn’t going back to uni, I was moving back in with my parents. I was hundreds of miles away from my uni friends, who I had been used to seeing every day. I felt alone, depressed, angry and lost. My dad took a few months off of work to help me get back on my feet, to encourage me to not just spend all day in bed which is what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what to do with myself, where I wanted my life to go, what I wanted to do. I decided returning to university was off the table because I needed to really focus on getting better, to finally prioritise my mental health. I had been referred to a therapy called DBT and received a place on this course. The course lasts 1 year with two sessions weekly, one individual session with you and your therapist, and one group session.
This is what my life consisted of for the next 9 months. I went to therapy, I spent time with family, I tried to learn German (emphasis on the ‘tried’), I saw my best friend, and I met up with the girls from therapy group. It wasn’t where I thought I’d be at this point, but it was somewhere I was learning to get along with. Life outside the psych hospital was finally looking more positive.
In April 2017 an incident happened where I ended up in a…tricky situation. I’d been off my meds for a couple of days, but also I hadn’t been taking them regularly for a few weeks. The episode happened early April and police were involved. I was taken for a psychiatric assessment and was once again placed in the psych ward. I was upset by this, because I thought things were mostly getting better. However I wasn’t as scared as prior times, as I knew roughly what to expect. I spent just over two months in hospital and was discharged into a different community team. Upon discharge, I was also placed at a day hospital where I would go for 4 weeks, to help ease me back in to ‘normal life’, and receive support from staff etc. And that really brings me here to today. It’s July 2017, I’ve finished day hospital and I’m back at home in the early stages of building my life back up.
One way I feel I can describe it is like this: Imagine spending time and effort into building a grand sandcastle, only for a large wave to come and wash it down, ruin it, so that once the wave has passed, you have to start building from the beginning again. This is what it feels like, to me, when put in the psych hospital. I felt as though it was this awful thing coming along and ruining my hard work. I do see now that it was important for me to be there, not only for my own safety, but to get properly diagnosed, get medication sorted out etc.
Since being out of hospital this year, I’ve already decided I want to return to college in 2018 to do a make up artistry course. I’m ready to start looking for voluntary work in order to build my confidence back up until I’m ready to get back into paid work. And I’m seeing my best friend on the regular, and planning to meet up with more people too.
The point I’ve been attempting to make in this post, is that there IS a life outside of hospital. No matter how hard and painful your journey is, there is always a ray of sunlight somewhere and you can get back on track. It may not be where you initially planned on being, but it is what you make of it and it has all the potential to be a great thing.
Mental illness is very real, very scary, and life altering. But it does not have to define you. It does not have to rule over your life. YOU rule over your life.
Here’s to living.